Saturday, February 24, 2007
As the title indicates, this is a family life update, so readers who find this sort of thing boring should stop now, especially as I suspect this update is even more boring than usual.
I should begin, naturally enough, with the weather. Spring seems to have returned to San Diego, bringing with it for me the usual very slightly mixed emotions. The emergence of the deliciously warm February weather we often get here gives that feeling many born and raised in harsh weather must feel of enjoying something almost sinfully pleasurable. So warm, so green, and it's February! The native San Diegan to this would respond, whatever, dude. At the same time, it makes me nostalgic for the good part of winter in the Rockies. I miss skiing, even while I do not miss at all the really pretty dreadful winters of the Great Basin cities such as Boise, Salt Lake or Reno. In my recent winter trips to Boise, I've been impressed at how cold and grey it usually is. Fair enough, it's not Minnesota, or North Dakota, but that is hardly a defense. If you go up in the mountains, however, you get above the inevitable clouds, and as you are probably up there to play anyway, it's fun. I read about skiing recently in this book, by novelist James Salter, about skiing in Austria in the 1950's or 60's, before it was quite so discovered. He did such a good job evoking it I had to put the book down, almost ill with nostalgia and envy. I've never been to Austria, but snow and pines I am familiar with. I found thinking about lift lines, obnoxious rich people at Vail, nastly little snowboarders and renting skis for 3 restless boys, helped a little. And anyway, sparkling sunshine and warm breezes in February are pretty easy to resign yourself to.
Speaking of Salter, he really is a good novelist, even if one of his primary objects in writing appears to be inspiring envy in his readers. He seems to have spent much of his life glamoring about with the rich, beautiful and famous. He likes to drop in little hints of how extremely cool he is, as in some famous ski racer whose name I have forgotten, telling him he is "skiing well." If you speak Austrian ski coach-ese, you may infer Salter is some mondo kinda skiier. I nevertheless recommend The Hunters, a bone dry, highly crafted account of flying fighter jets in Korea. You have to admire this book really for depicting what you know must animate a lot of highly skilled warriors, just pure testosterone fueled competitiveness. Solo Faces is probably the best novel ever written about climbing. Of course, there are so many true accounts of real climbs that are better, you don't really need fiction, but it is still a worthwhile read, if rather a depressing one.
We got some good news recently. My second son Patrick received the highest score in the entrance exam at "Saints", the boys' Catholic prep school in San Diego. This entitles him, and more to the point, his parents, to a scholarship that will go far to defray the non-trivial tuition of the academy. I had half jokingly told Patrick that if he won said scholarship, I would buy him a PlayStation 3, the ne plus ultra of game consoles, I am informed. He let a decent interval of a few hours pass between informing me of the scholarship and exercising his call option. My lovely wife Jeanne and sons were kind enough to wait in the line at BestBuy to buy the thing. They got there early enough Sunday morning that they got the first one in that shipment. They were unkind enough to tell me they had to bite someone to get it, which I believed until they told me it was a joke. They think it is funny to play on my paranoia. I don't game, but boys and friends report profound satisfaction with the PS3. I do let them play first person shooter games, as I think it may come in handy in the event of a breakdown in civil order.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
David Friedman explains why he is sympathetic to the skeptics about global warming. His argument is similar to ones I have been quoting and making. Here is an excerpt:
Global warming provides arguments for things that a lot of people, mostly left of center, want to do anyway—shift lifestyles away from automobiles towards mass transit, reduce consumption of depletable resources, and the like. Environmentalism is in part a real argument, in part a religion, in part an aesthetic; the second and third parts make people too willing to accept the first.
Which [helps explain] why I choose to align myself with the forces of evil and ignorance by expressing skepticism about the horrors likely to arise from global warming. Simply put, I am skeptical of conclusions that appear to go well beyond the scientific evidence, pushed by people who have reasons to want other people to believe them.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
(It may take me a while to get back into the swing of post titles.) In any event, this appears to be a highly amusing case, so much so it may even be worth reading. Supreme Court says Congress must pass law for X to be the case. Congress passes law saying "X". Lower court says "X is the law." Of course, there is a dissent: "X is unconstitutional!" I love it when things are simple. Maybe Congress should make laws instead of the Courts? Nahhhh.
This is one of the best posts I have read, so I will excerpt it at length:
People go funny in the head when talking about politics. The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring: In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death. And sex, and wealth, and allies, and reputation... When, today, you get into an argument about whether "we" ought to raise the minimum wage, you're executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed. Being on the right side of the argument could let you kill your hated rival!
If you want to make a point about science, or rationality, then my advice is to not choose a domain from contemporary politics if you can possibly avoid it. If your point is inherently about politics, then talk about Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality - but it's a terrible domain in which to learn rationality, or discuss rationality, unless all the discussants are already rational.
Politics is an extension of war by other means. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back - providing aid and comfort to the enemy. People who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue.
In Artificial Intelligence, and particularly in the domain of nonmonotonic reasoning, there's a standard problem: "All Quakers are pacifists. All Republicans are not pacifists. Nixon is a Quaker and a Republican. Is Nixon a pacifist?"
What on Earth was the point of choosing this as an example? To rouse the political emotions of the readers and distract them from the main question? To make Republicans feel unwelcome in courses on Artificial Intelligence and discourage them from entering the field? (And no, before anyone asks, I am not a Republican. Or a Democrat.)
Why would anyone pick such a distracting example to illustrate nonmonotonic reasoning? Probably because the author just couldn't resist getting in a good, solid dig at those hated Greens. It feels so good to get in a hearty punch, y'know, it's like trying to resist a chocolate cookie.
As with chocolate cookies, not everything that feels pleasurable is good for you. And it certainly isn't good for our hapless readers who have to read through all the angry comments your blog post inspired.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I will be chairing a symposium here in San Diego next weekend, with a group of about a dozen law school deans and law professors from around the country, to discuss the "ethics and economics of legal education". Tuition costs for law school have risen far ahead of the general rate of inflation over the past few decades: many law students now graduate with tuition debt in excess of $100,000. Senior faculty salaries have also risen well ahead of the inflation rates, and teaching loads have fallen. (A generation ago it was common for law professors to teach 3 or more courses every semester. Now the norm at many law schools is 3 courses a year: 2 courses one semester, only 1 the other semester: half or less what the teaching load used to be.) And the money put into "administration" has risen sharply too: far more administrative employees than there used to be, more lavish buildings and facilities, and so on.
To some extent, high tuition and low faculty teaching loads are a subsidy for faculty scholarship: publication of academic books and law review articles. (Law professors judge each other on their writing much more than on their teaching.) If students and their families - and taxpayers, through government guaranteed loans for example - are subsidising scholarship, should it matter if academic legal scholarship is overwhelmingly tilted to the political left, so that the public are getting only one side of the story for their money?
Not all - or even most - of my conference participants will necessarily agree with me about the unbalanced political partisanship of academic legal writing. Or that students, their families, and the taxpayers, may sooner or later object to subsidising it.
So it should be an interesting conference. The participants will be presenting papers, and the Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues - our symposium journal at the University of San Diego Law School - will publish them later this year. I also plan to post and link to at least some of the papers here at the RightCoast. So stay tuned.
From the Wall Street Journal interview of Nobel Prize winner Tom Schelling by Nobel Prize Winner Michael Spence:
Tom Schelling expects Iran to get nuclear weapons. "Once a country becomes the owner of nuclear weapons, it is imperative that they learn to deal with them responsibly." He pointed out that it took the U.S. 15 years after World War II to learn to think seriously about the security of its weapons. Before that, weapons did not have combination locks, let alone complex electronic security codes. Now, most weapons will not detonate even if given the codes unless they are at their designated targets. He recalled that a friend who had a role in developing the weapons told him that one day in the late 1950s, he got off a plane at an air base in Germany and saw a military aircraft on the tarmac with a bomb beside it guarded by a single soldier. In those days there were not locks and codes. The man strolled over and asked the soldier what this was. The answer: "I believe it is a nuclear bomb, sir." When asked what he would do if someone started to roll the weapon away, the soldier replied that he would call his superiors for instructions. A further enquiry established that the phone was some 300 meters away.